• Lauren Sauer

I was a Creative Writing minor in college. Thankfully, my parents are the breed of supportive that allowed me to spend thousands of dollars on credit hours essentially devoted to people-watching and cramming as many metaphors that would fit into a single Word document.

In every class I took, whether it be Introduction to Fiction Writing, Food Writing, or Personal Memoir, the same thought would fester in my brain: Meta as it may seem, one day I need to write about this. This collection of contrived twenty-somethings and their musings on Emily Dickinson. This unique breed of college curriculum that convenes Tuesdays and Thursdays in the otherwise abandoned basement of the English building, always in that hour of late afternoon that sends beams of uncomfortable sunlight through the window for at least half of class. Classes my friends lightly made fun of, as they spent their days elsewhere on campus, unpacking the psychosomatic impacts of poverty or correctly identifying the microscopic parts of a plant cell.

Creative writing classes, in a nutshell, are some oatmeal-sweater clad, kind-faced woman in front of a chalkboard trying to teach how not to rely on cliches like "in a nutshell." They are desks intentionally arranged in a half-moon, so that every member of the group might be able to make eye contact with each person present.

Creative writing classes are poorly photocopied excerpts from Ralph Waldo Emerson, or sometimes if you're lucky something with some bite or levity. My favorite readings were always David Sedaris or Nora Ephron, though inevitably the classes in which we were assigned Ephron readings were always followed by classes in which my male classmates took great pride in dismissing the work for its "lack of substance." When I was nineteen I felt immense guilt for having enjoyed the "whipped cream" of the curriculum the best, but in years since, I look to my favorite essays with nothing but affection and knowledge that that criticism was rooted in misogyny.

Creative writing class, in my experience, was a collection of students plucked directly from Urban Outfitters ads or the crowd at a Nirvana concert. I always found it so hilariously cliche when I would walk by the library and saw a good two-thirds of the Creative Writing student base smoking cigarettes in the same tiny courtyard. I don't mean to make fun or try to seem holier-than-thou, but when they would shuffle into class in Doc Martens, smelling of stale nicotine and a need for approval, I couldn't help but make a mental note to jot it down later. Notably, this one guy in my Intro to Poetry class who, no lie, exclusively wore black turtleneck sweaters and Lennon-esque circular eyeglasses. It should come as no surprise to know he also had ragged blonde hair past his shoulders, that he would quizzically brush behind his ears as he would lean in and muse what exactly gave the author credibility to discuss mortality. Meanwhile the girl seated by the door with a sleeve of shoddily-done tattoos and a septum piercing would meaningfully nod and offer a "piggyback" comment.

I went to a university that, full disclosure, has an alarming lack of diversity. Most students I encountered were, to quote my mother, "very All-American looking," which is to say cut from the same cloth, later to be adorned with Greek letters. Every day when I went to pick up my coffee, the Starbucks barista would announce he had "an iced latte for Lauren," and anywhere from three to five blondes would approach the counter to intercept the order. There were very few unnatural hair colors or intentionally ripped band T-shirts on campus, so when all the self-prescribed misfits came to congregate in the same classroom, I guess it makes sense that a creative writing course would be the great unifier. For reasons mentioned above, it just felt like a brief visit to a parallel universe. After the professor dismissed the group from each session, the blue hair and unseasonable turtlenecks would disappear into a sea of American Eagle, only to come ashore again the next Tuesday.

I never thought of myself as better than anyone else in those classes; I'm simply reflecting on how silly it was for me to feel intimidated by my peers. I always did the assigned reading and turned in my essays on time, but I still felt like I belonged less than the other kids in my classes. I didn't read Edgar Allen Poe in my spare time and I liked Top 40 music, so I was convinced I was stupider or was less worthy of sharing my opinion. Most of my classmates took their notes in tiny leather-bound Moleskines, while I jotted down mine in a spiral notebook with Taylor Swift on the cover. For this reason, I'm sure my classmates were judging me just as I was judging them, coming to the conclusion that I was basic or vapid. It was only when we workshopped one another's drafts that I felt I deserved a seat at the table.

Because that's another thing about creative writing classes: With enrollment comes the unique opportunity of emotional bleeding in front of your peers, for a grade no less. Creative writing classes are best summarized by spending $9.75 at the library printing fifteen copies of your most recent essay to later distribute and receive back once they've been assaulted in pen by bright red question marks. In job interviews, I tend to reference creative writing workshops as an example of a time I've responded well to criticism. No one other than a practicing writer can describe to you the unique torture of sitting in silence for an hour while fifteen peers have a spirited debate about their merit on the page. Creative writing classes are truly, at their essence, paying to have fellow white children ask you to go into more detail about your most private trauma. An example that best comes to mind--and this is true--is that time this guy named Jack (clad, of course, in cuffed jeans, a button-up, and sueded boots) said to me in front of the entire class while I was rendered silent, "I mean, this is...a good start...but I was really interested in the part where your dad called you a bitch, and in revisions I think it'd be cool if you could unpack that further."

All that said, I wouldn't trade my formal creative writing education for anything. I got to read widely, better control my use of semicolons, and confidently take up space on a page. I was given this weird measured voyeurism into lives that have since drifted from my realm of awareness. I sat in office hours and asked my professors how I could best channel my feelings in poems, while my friends only got an hour a week to go over test corrections with their professors who dealt in concrete rights and wrongs. I started excavating themes I hope to one day get into an actual book. I was once, to borrow a phrase jotted on top of a portfolio by my Nonfiction 101 professor, "Best in class!"

I did a lot of judging, and frankly I didn't make any friends, but I got the degree and I got the experience to observe and turn it into something tangible later on. After all, writing is just committing the absurd to memory and reciting it later to a keyboard.

  • Lauren Sauer

I don't know if it's the fact that I spend nearly every moment of the day by myself (thank you for your continued service, Coronavirus) or the fact that Taylor Swift recently re-released an album from 2008, but I've been thinking about the past a lot. Or rather, my past. The person I used to be; the girl I was and all the personalities and interests she was trying on for size. The tantrums, the dreams, the ambitions, and the delusions.

I'm closer to my thirties than I am to my teen years--though I swear just in years, and not in spirit. I'm not sure when I'll wake up and decide I'm an adult, but it wasn't today and it probably won't be tomorrow, either. Feigned adolescence aside, it's true that I am getting to a point in my life where I look back on a younger me with less resentment and with more empathy.

I wish the space-time continuum allowed me to somehow be my own older sister and look after myself in middle school. Because that's how I feel about Younger Me. I recognize she is a part of me, because once upon a time I was her, but mostly I look at her like a separate entity that I now want to protect. I want to shelter her and cheer her on and wipe her tears and make her laugh and validate her feelings. There's so much I want to tell her and so much I want her to remind me of. So if you don't mind, you can stay and keep reading, but I think it actually might be nice to devote the rest of this blog post to Younger Me specifically.

Attn. Younger Me:

Hi. I promise I'll try my best not to over-exercise those cliché lines from all those time travel movies, but if you can believe it, I'm you from the future. Actually, I think that's pretty believable. We look more or less the same. I haven't done anything crazy to my appearance; the most eccentric it gets around here is a few tiny tattoos and a yearlong stint of dying our hair bright red in college.

Speaking of appearances though, I do want to let you know the braces come off and you'll finally figure out how to make your eyebrows cooperate with the rest of your face. I know you so badly want to wear makeup and shop where all the other girls at school do, but for the love of God you're so tiny and cute and when I look back at you now, I see someone who looks her age, which frankly is becoming more and more of a novelty.

I'm not here to talk to you about your looks, though. Looks are the least interesting thing I could talk to you about, because you're so smart and you don't even realize it. You have so many good ideas and giant goals. I love that you want to be a novelist for a living. I almost hate to tell you you will not go on to do that. But once your ego reminds you you'd much rather write about yourself instead of made up people, you'll be totally cool with letting that dream go in favor of new ones.

We have a lot in common, you know. I mean, aside from the whole "sharing the same existence" thing, a lot of steadfast threads tie the two of us together. We both love a lot of the same music and going to Target with our mom. We both cry far more often than we'd like to, but we both keep thinking that'll change in a few years once we're a little older. We both hate tomatoes and rollercoasters. We both would rather die than have the waitstaff of a restaurant find out its our birthday and sing to us in public.

We're also both highly anxious creatures, but I don't know if you know that about yourself yet. Just so you know--and I'm only telling you this because it'll come as a big shock to you later if I don't tell you now--not everyone overthinks the way you do. Most of your classmates don't stay up all night before the first day of school overanalyzing what time to walk to the bus stop. I wish I could tell you I've devised the perfect plan to overcome mental illness, but all I can tell you is I'm still working on it, and overanalyzing how many exclamation points to put in a corporate email is the new overanalyzing what time to walk to the bus stop.

Because you're an overthinker by nature, I'm going to quell some of the thoughts bouncing around your head. Whatever laundry list of neuroses you're currently blowing out of proportion: I guarantee it doesn't matter.

I have no idea who that person is.

I don't remember the dumb thing you said.

I don't care about that fight with your friend from the seventh grade.

Yes, everyone else has experienced that thing you think has only ever happened to you.

No, you didn't bleed through your jeans during history class.

No, it doesn't matter that you didn't get the lead in the 8th grade musical.

No, this feeling isn't forever.

You're fine.

You're funny. You're observant. You're imaginative. You're conscientious. You're talented. You're resourceful. You're enough. I figure 1) It's not cocky if I'm talking to you, Past Self and 2) I wish we told young girls how great they are more often, especially greatness that doesn't pertain to how they look or what size they wear.

On top of all those great things, you're also often loud and annoying, and on occasion you have a bad attitude and sometimes you're just downright wrong. I promise I'm not trying to be harsh: You're allowed to be all of those things. I wish you would relinquish a little bit of control and stop caring so much about what it looks like or what people think or what the "correct" thing to do is. Eventually you'll discover true confidence is not walking into a room and telling yourself, "Everyone in here is going to love me," but rather, "Everyone in here can feel however they want about me, and it doesn't matter, because I love me."

You're a pretty precocious kid, and when I look at myself I see little habits you started or mannerisms you created. I mean that as a compliment. Thank you for always calling your grandparents regularly and doing your homework and holding the door open for people. Thank you for being kind and for trying your best. You have so much to give and you're going to grow into a person who can actually take your best intentions for a spin.

I love you so much.

Very respectfully yours,

Current Me (Future You)

  • Lauren Sauer

The morning is the best time. Specifically, waking up and wiping crust from the corner of the eyes, deep breaths and stretches. A few minutes of delusion between snoozed alarms. Then, sitting up straight and finally succumbing to the reality that regardless of what the calendar may say, the date is arbitrary and this is morning #300-something of the "new normal," a phrase that somehow feels both dystopian and Pollyanna.

Feet find slippers. Mouth finds toothbrush. Mirror finds someone who looks familiar, but with longer hair and paler skin. Do an abbreviated version of the grooming routine, minus the fun parts involving shimmery eye shadow and mascara wands.

Then drink something. Drink many things. Start with water that is half last night's nightstand leftovers, half this morning's chilled Brita filter reservoir. Then move on to something hot. Water is boiled in the kettle, half a lemon squeezed into a mug and waiting to be doused in steam. Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for the gut. Hot lemon water with a vinegar shot. The internet says that's good. It's comforting to do something that's said to be good. The blogs say the vinegar and lemon boost the immune system, and the inner hypochondriac is clinging to that factoid, whether or not it's true. The hot water is good for decongestion. It's important to pair this with minimum two to three cups of coffee in order to effectively cancel out any of those decongesting properties. But doing this ("this" in the grand scheme) without coffee simply wouldn't work.

Hot water. Coffee. Hot water. Cold water. Coffee. Cold water. Hot water. Coffee. Repeat until the body is housing an unnatural amount of liquid and the caffeine jitters kick in. Maybe breakfast is eaten, if the mood strikes. Good, crusty toasted bread. Or some fruit eaten straight from the plastic grocery store clamshell. Or maybe oatmeal. Or maybe nothing until 2 p.m.

Key part of the morning is waking up at least one hour before Things Need To Get Done. There is no longer a commute, or a need to look presentable, but it is still imperative to have some time with oneself before walking the five feet between the bed and the office. This time can be spent drinking the hot lemon water and the coffee by the windowsill in complete silence. The time can also just as easily be spent watching mind-numbingly stupid reality TV from the mid-2000s.

Then it's time to sit at the desk that's been slowly outfitted over the course of a year spent alone. The wireless mouse that was found to immediately be a necessary mere days into working from home. The expensive office chair that took much self-convincing, at the request of a back that is too sore to only be twenty-five. Overall, the makings of a little nook that doesn't know about the legal pads accidentally abandoned in drawers miles away, or the colleagues who once politely engaged in conversation about the weather or some crazy virus threatening to cross the ocean.

Hours spent either in complete silence or in back-to-back virtual conference rooms, with generic phrases about a brighter future and many unknowns tossed with ease like Wiffle balls. Polite smiles and overthinking the use of an exclamation point. When the list is completely crossed through and outside is dusky, step away from the laptop. Resist the urge to immediately crawl into bed. Sometimes the urge isn't resisted, though, because the bed is just right there.

What was the weather like? Check the little screen you get to look at for fun when you're taking a break from the medium-sized screen. Little screen says it was cold out. If the little screen offers a more favorable number, though, maybe go see whether or not that's true.

Walk to the drugstore. Walk to pick up dinner. Walk to the end of the street and back, if that's all there is to do. These outings do need a soundtrack, which is why wireless earbuds are always within immediate reach. The soundtrack could be Joni Mitchell and her folksy introspective contemporaries, or could be more modern pop where the instrumentation is bright and computerized but the lyrics are like "I'm the most powerful woman alive and if a man even looks at me I'll burn his house down."

Once the lists are done and the cat is fed and the body is tired, it's time to rest. Do a nighttime version of the grooming regime, which includes pouring a tall glass of water that will be half-drank now, and half mixed with cold Brita filter water the next morning. The next morning: In theory, different, but in practice more of the same. Not in a depressing, pessimistic, doomsday type of way. Just in a "This is day #300-something of the 'new normal'" type of way.